In a season when Angelenos spend millions on air conditioning and ice cream cones, and chew up countless hours whining and trying to find ways to beat the heat, a few of us brave souls have taken it upon ourselves to embrace the heat - indeed, to celebrate it. Heat, like so much else, is an acquired taste. Which makes it difficult, if not absurd, to explain the passions that it ignites in us and the anticipation with which we look forward to summer in all its sweaty, spicy and splendid glory. Perhaps we're simply masochists, or cold-blooded creatures who need heat to get our blood flowing. Maybe we feel inadequate and have to make up for it by enduring all things extreme. But heat, my friends, is passionate; it is alive. Heat lets us perspire, breathe, open up our windows, shed our clothes and go outside. It brings us closer to nature, closer to each other, closer to God, fer chrissakes. Embrace it, feel it. Sweat. Trust us, it is good.
The essence of heat is fire, and fire is at once beautiful, ominous and devastating. When things heat up, Mother Nature feels it too, sometimes tragically. So if you think you've got it bad, just remember the poor desert brush, baking in the sun, just a spark away from its own funeral conflagration. a And be thankful for the thin red line of firefighters who risk their own lives to help keep the heat from threatening ours.
Going up in smoke is a definite daily possibility in Malibu during high fire season (June to December), and is often dependent on the Santa Ana winds, which bear down on the Santa Monica Mountains at speeds of up to 50 miles an hour. "The scariest are the wind-driven fires," says Chief Eric Ekeburg of the Los Angeles County Fire Department in Malibu. "The biggest fires are in the late fall, because the fuel (grass or anything flammable) is dried out by summer heat and predisposed of moisture. It is prime time for burning."
But the Santa Ana winds can't be blamed for all the fires in L.A. County. According to John Cass, senior arson investigator with the Los Angeles Fire Department, 60 percent of fires in the city of L.A. are the work of arsonists with motives that range from spite and revenge to vanity. With only 18 arson investigators and the lowest number of firefighters per capita in a city that encompasses an area of 464.5 square miles, the LAFD has its hands full, especially this summer, when grassy areas around Highland and Griffith parks will become fire danger zones. (CP)
If the thought of going up in flames makes you a bit uneasy, you can always hide out in the water. Of course, with beaches and pools so banal and crowded, why not kick back and relax while enjoying the health benefits of a hot spring or sauna? For thousands of years, in places as far away as Europe and Asia, hot mineral baths were revered for their soothing, relaxing and therapeutic qualities. It wasn't till the turn of the century that Angelenos caught on to the trend for which Asian royalty were paying top dollar. Glen Ivy Hot Springs (25000 Glen Ivy Road, Corona; 909-277-3529) has been a favorite hot-soak spot since the 1870s, offering 15 natural pools that reach temperatures of up to 110 degrees. The mineral-rich indigenous red clay from a nearby canyon adds to the sizzling experience. Beverly Hot Springs (308 N. Oxford Ave.; 213-734-7000) is the only 100 percent pure alkaline hot mineral-water spa in L.A. Comparable to a famous spa in Germany, Beverly Hot Springs' balmy waters flow from a natural artesian well 2,200 feet below the Earth's surface.
At 180 degrees and just 20 percent humidity, the genuine Finnish semidry sauna at Burbank Spa (2115 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; 818-845-1251) is guaranteed to quicken your pulse and make you sweat, providing a great alternative to exercise without moving a muscle. In addition to the cleansing and relaxing effects of the heat, the vapors from eucalyptus oil poured over the hot granite stones are said to be good for allergies and the flu, and an MTA-style pull cord on the ceiling lets you determine your level of semidry by dumping cold water over the stones. Best of all, after 20 minutes in the sauna, the 90-degree heat outside seems positively cool. (CP, VF)
With the air feeling cool, you'll be primed to set your mouth aflame at one of L.A.'s myriad authentic ethnic restaurants. At La Noche Buena (E-8 Olvera St.; 213-628-2078), owner Guillermo Garcia spends five hours daily making each batch of his secret salsa roja, a muddy, bloody half-liquid that can raise the sweat on your forehead after just a few drops. La Noche Buena's heat comes exclusively from the three graduated salsas that sit like stoplights on every table.
Of course, even Garcia insists that when it comes to hot stuff, Mexican is "no match for Korean food." The staff at Surabul (100 S. Western Ave.; 213-388-1975) may dispute this claim, but the yook geh jang soup and jeh yook bock eun pork need no additional peppers or sauce to leave the uninitiated breathing fire. If Korean food is among the hottest, Thai food remains at least a worthy rival. At Jitlada (5233* Sunset Blvd.; 213-667-9809), the green peppers floating in the tom yum soup seem to explode in the mouths of unsuspecting guests; they're so hot that several members of the staff won't even go near 'em.
Any measure of spice ultimately comes down to the sauces you add yourself. Even at the Jamaican restaurant Natraliart (3426 W. Washington Blvd.; 213-732-8865), which actually claims to have the hottest food around, spice enthusiasts live (and die!) by the scotch bonnet pepper, rated a perfect 10 for heat by the American Spice Trade Association. The jerk-chicken special isn't particularly spicy straight out of the kitchen, but dreadlocked regulars know that just a few drops of the yellow "hot hot hot" Calypso Sauce is all it takes to send steam shootin' out of their ears. Heeeeaaaat!! One Bob Marley was even spotted dicing up fresh scotch bonnets and sprinkling them on his food. Not for the faint of stomach.
Finally, what could be more Hollywood than a spicy gift basket? Artfull Baskets (310-392-6661) offers the Georgia O'Keeffe basket ($39), inspired by the spicy and colorful Southwestern world of the artist and colored with chili chips, salsa, hot Mexican olives, and margarita mix in a chile-pepper-shaped bottle. Only in L.A. (VF) They're Red Hot!
If the sauces aren't hot enough for you, go straight to the source: the red-hot chile pepper. Eating chiles can be quite addictive - the brain releases endorphins to counteract the scorching pain inside the mouth, giving chile-heads a natural "runner's high" without having to get up from the table. Light My Fire (Farmers Market, West Third Avenue and Fairfax Avenue; 213-930-2484) carries all types of pepper fixes, from jalapenos (2,500-5,000 Scoville units of heat) to Thai peppers (50,000- 100,000) to the planet's hottest, habaneros (100,000-300,000).
Green-thumbed aficionados can find the seeds to grow their own chiles at Hollywood Nursery (1201 N. La Brea Ave.; 213-851-3641), which features all types of pepper seeds as well as free advice on how to grow them. And Southern California also holds claim to the world's hottest pepper, the Red Savina Habanero, patented by Frank and Mary Garcia of GNS Spices (in Walnut; 800-870-6657) and reputed to clock in at an eye-watering 577,000 Scoville units. Don't worry, the excruciating pain starts to die down in two to four minutes.
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Chile is, of course, a key ingredient in chili. And while chili cook-offs abound in summer, only at the Clothing Optional Chili Cookoff (August 29 at the Glen Eden Sun Club, 25999 Glen Eden Road, Corona; 909-277-4650) can you let off some chile-induced steam by going au naturel. Rumor has it that the extra cooling capacity of the body free from clothing means nudists can handle a few more Scoville units than the average chile-head. (GB)
If your food wasn't hot enough for you, don't worry, there's plenty of hot grog on the way. In L.A.'s semidesert climate, even in the thick of summer the overnight lows frequently dip under 60 degrees, meaning after sundown you can put down your frapuccino and head to Tom Bergin's (840 S. Fairfax Ave.; 213-936-7151) for L.A.'s finest Irish coffee. For those who prefer their hot stuff on the rocks, El Compadre (7408 W. Sunset Blvd.; 213-874-7924) offers an attention-grabbing flaming margarita. And of course, for true lovers of the scorched-eyebrow circuit, who could forget the Bacardi 151-laced Flaming Dr. Pepper, a college-town favorite done quite nicely at Maloney's on Campus (1000 E. Gayley Ave., Westwood; 310-208-1942).
Doctors may disagree, but the experts know there are few things better for a hangover on a hot Sunday morning than a Bloody Mary. The Stovepiper (19563 Parthenia, Northridge; 818-886-2526) serves up this classic featuring bartender Jerry's homemade secret sauce that may be one of the best in the Valley. Putting out the fire is certainly not in order at The Firehouse (213 Rose Ave., Venice; 310-396-6810), with a concoction so hot you won't taste the alcohol at all. Until you try to stand up, that is. (GB)